Fossil fuels consumption impacts the greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuels are considered as alternative renewable energy sources to reduce the fossil fuels dependency. Bioethanol produced by recombinant microorganisms is a widely suggested alternative to increase the yield in fermentation processes. However, ethanol and acetate accumulation under the fermentation process had been described as important stressors for the metabolic capabilities of the microorganisms, stopping the fermentation process and affecting the ethanol yield. Ethanol tolerance is a determining factor in the improvement of fermentative properties of microorganisms; however understanding of ethanol tolerance is limited. The engineered Escherichia coli KO11 strain has been studied in detail and used as an ethanologenic bacteria model. The strain is capable of using glucose and xylose for an efficient ethanol yield. In the current work, the effect of the iron-sulfur cluster (ISC) over-expression in the KO11 strain, on its tolerance and ethanol yield, was evaluated. Fatty acids profiles of membrane phospholipids in the E. coli KO11 were modified under ethanol addition, but not due to the hscA mutation. The hscA mutation provoked a decrease in ethanol tolerance in the Kmp strain when was grown with 2% ethanol, in comparison to KO11 parent strain. Ethanol tolerance was improved in the mutant Kmp complemented with the recombinant isc gene cluster (pJC10 plasmid) from LD50 2.16% to LD50 3.8% ethanol. In batch fermentation on 1 L bioreactor using mineral medium with glucose (120 g/L), the KO11 strain showed ethanol production efficiencies of ~ 76.9%, while the hscA mutant (Kmp) ~ 75.4% and the transformed strain Kmp(pJC10) showed ~ 92.4% efficiency. Ethanol amount increase in the engineered Kmp(pJC10) strain was correlated with less organic acids (such as acetate and lactate) production in the fermentation medium (2.3 g/L), compared to that in the KO11 (17.05 g/L) and the Kmp (16.62 g/L). Alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) activity was increased ~ 350% in the transformed Kmp(pJC10) strain, whereas in the Kmp mutant, the phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK), pyruvate kinase (PYK), and ADH activities were diminished, comparing to KO11. The results suggest that the isc system over-expression in the ethanologenic E. coli KO11 strain, increases ethanol yield mainly by improving ethanol tolerance and ADH activity, and by redirecting the metabolic flux from acetate synthesis to ethanol.
Keywords: Biofuels; Ethanol tolerance; Fermentation; Iron sulfur cluster; Organic acids.